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NTSB recommends ban on driver cell phone use

Reader poll

Do you agree with the National Transportation Board's recommendation to ban the use of cell phones in vehicles?

  • Yes. A total ban would make the roads much safer 20%
  • Yes, but the ban should not include hands-free devices 35%
  • No. The NTB should not supercede state laws. 45%

96 total votes.

WASHINGTON -- States should ban all driver use of cell phones and other portable electronic devices, except in emergencies, the National Transportation Board said Tuesday.

The recommendation, unanimously agreed to by the five-member board, applies to both hands-free and hand-held phones and significantly exceeds any existing state laws restricting texting and cellphone use behind the wheel.

The board made the recommendation in connection with a deadly highway pileup in Missouri last year. The board said the initial collision in the accident near Gray Summit, Mo., was caused by the inattention of a 19 year-old-pickup driver who sent or received 11 texts in the 11 minutes immediately before the crash.

The pickup, traveling at 55 mph, collided into the back of a tractor truck that had slowed for highway construction. The pickup was rear-ended by a school bus that overrode the smaller vehicle. A second school bus rammed into the back of the first bus.

The pickup driver and a 15-year-old student on one of the school buses were killed. Thirty-eight other people were injured in the Aug. 5, 2010, accident near Gray Summit, Mo.

About 50 students, mostly members of a high school band from St. James, Mo., were on the buses heading to the Six Flags St. Louis amusement park.

The accident is a "big red flag for all drivers," NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman said at a meeting to determine the cause of the accident and make safety recommendations.

It's not possible to know from cell phone records if the driver was typing, reaching for the phone or reading a text at the time of the crash, but it's clear he was manually, cognitively and visually distracted, she said.

"Driving was not his only priority," Hersman said. "No call, no text, no update is worth a human life."

The board is expected to recommend new restrictions on driver use of electronic devices behind the wheel. While the NTSB doesn't have the power to impose restrictions, it's recommendations carry significant weight with federal regulators and congressional and state lawmakers.

Missouri had a law banning drivers under 21 years old from texting while driving at the time of the crash, but wasn't aggressively enforcing the ban, board member Robert Sumwalt said.

"Without the enforcement, the laws don't mean a whole lot," he said.

Investigators are seeing texting, cell phone calls and other distracting behavior by operators in accidents across all modes of transportation with increasing frequency. It has become routine for investigators to immediately request the preservation of cell phone and texting records when they launch an investigation.

In the last few years the board has investigated a commuter rail accident that killed 25 people in California in which the train engineer was texting; a fatal marine accident in Philadelphia in which a tugboat pilot was talking on his cellphone and using a laptop; and a Northwest Airlines flight that flew more than 100 miles past its destination because both pilots were working on their laptops.

The board has previously recommended bans on texting and cell phone use by commercial truck and bus drivers and beginning drivers, but it has stopped short of calling for a ban on the use of the devices by adults behind the wheel of passenger cars.

The problem of texting while driving is getting worse despite a rush by states to ban the practice, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said last week. In November, Pennsylvania became the 35th state to forbid texting while driving.

About two out of 10 American drivers overall -- and half of drivers between 21 and 24 -- say they've thumbed messages or emailed from the driver's seat, according to a survey of more than 6,000 drivers by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

And what's more, many drivers don't think it's dangerous when they do it -- only when others do, the survey found.

At any given moment last year on America's streets and highways, nearly 1 in every 100 car drivers was texting, emailing, surfing the Web or otherwise using a handheld electronic device, the safety administration said. And those activities spiked 50 percent over the previous year.

The agency takes an annual snapshot of drivers' behavior behind the wheel by staking out intersections to count people using cellphones and other devices, as well as other distracting behavior.

Driver distraction wasn't the only significant safety problem uncovered by NTSB's investigation of the Missouri accident. Investigators said they believe the pickup driver was suffering from fatigue that may have eroded his judgment at the time of the accident. He had an average of about five and a half hours of sleep a night in the days leading up to the accident and had had fewer than five hours of sleep the night before the accident, they said.

The pickup driver had no history of accidents or traffic violations, investigators said.

Investigators also found significant problems with the brakes of both school buses involved in the accident. A third school bus sent to a hospital after the accident to pick up students crashed in the hospital parking lot when that bus' brakes failed.

However, the brake problems didn't cause or contribute to the severity of the accident, investigators said.

Another issue involved the difficulty passengers had exiting the first school bus after the accident. The bus' front and rear bus doors were unusable after the accident -- the front door because the front bus was on top of the tractor truck cab and too high off the ground, and the rear door because the front of the bus had intruded five feet into the rear of the first bus.

Passengers had to exit through an emergency window, but the raised latch on the window kept catching on clothing as students tried to escape, investigators said. Exiting was further slowed because the window design required one person to hold the window up in order for a second person to crawl through, they said.

It was critical for passengers to exit as quickly as possible because a large amount of fuel puddled underneath the bus was a serious fire hazard, investigators said.

"It could have been a much worse situation if there was a fire," Donald Karol, the NTSB's highway safety director, said.

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Comments

coffeepuppet 2 years, 8 months ago

If the NTSB feels that even talking on a hands free device is a distraction.

Then there should be a ban on eating while driving. Then of course you must ban smoking, CDs, IPods, even the radio since we get upset with the commentator or that song we hate or shed a tear over that sad news story. Wearing headphones is already illegal if I'm not mistaken; but how many people do that? How many drive with the newspaper, magazine or book on the steering wheel. What about shaving, and putting on make-up behind the wheel.

NTSB should ban non-family members from riding in the car since they would cause distracting conversation. But what about children; crying, fighting, very distracting.

Let's remove billboards, they're all distracting. Ban the guy out there enthusiastically waving his sign around.

Install new larger, easier to read signage for directions and identifying upcoming turns and such. Enforce the current laws we have.

There are many things to do if it's all about safety. But it's not about safety. It's about giving the government more control of our lives in more subtle ways, and it will produce revenue too.

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Oliver 2 years, 8 months ago

You are right on the money with these comments. I hope everyone is able to see the over-reaching nature of big brother and quickly put a stop his actions.

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ACC12_SEC13Booster 2 years, 8 months ago

I can agree with the prohibition on texting and even handheld cellphones, but prohibiting hands-free cell phones because of a deadly wreck that was caused by a 19-year-old who was TEXTING is a blatant overreach of big government.

To ban hands-free cell phone use while driving is ridiculous, especially when so many people have to spend more and more time stuck in traffic.

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ACC12_SEC13Booster 2 years, 8 months ago

That deadly wreck was NOT caused by someone who was on a hands-free cellphone, but was caused by a 19-year-old drivers who was TEXTING.

So what sense does it make to ban hands-free cellphone use when those deadly crashes were caused by people texting?

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R 2 years, 8 months ago

How would ANYONE know you are using a hands free phone anyway? Interesting issue

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dav 2 years, 8 months ago

Dont forget to ban the shifting of gears with a manual transmission

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Mack711 2 years, 8 months ago

Many cars feature bluetooth in the radio system. That is what comes in most vehicles and we need to use them. Believe that using a hand held cell phone while driving is also a big distraction becaues you have to dial the number on some phones and that leaves only one hand to drive, how many times have you seen people using their hands while talking? lots of them!!!

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kevin 2 years, 8 months ago

Despite the fact that Atlanta has so many inconsiderate and stupid drivers, we don't need the Feds to tell us what to do in our cars, just like them telling us what type of light bulbs to use. Have we become like Russia?

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